The joke’s on us. When we refuse to forgive others because of the hurt they have caused us, when we throw them into a virtual prison, when we can recount every offense and sin they have committed against us – the joke is on us. We are the ones who are really in jail; dressed in the prison garb of hate, shackled by unforgiveness, and locked behind impenetrable walls of bitterness. Irony of ironies, we hold the key that removes the shackles and unlocks the door.
In the Lord’s Prayer and in the brief explanation that follows Jesus emphasizes the need to not only receive God’s forgiveness but forgive others as well. Jesus instructed us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12, NASB95) And He taught, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14–15, NASB95) Jesus demonstrated this prayer in concrete terms from the Cross when He prayed for those torturing and murdering Him, “But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34a, NASB95) “Father, forgive them” is also one of our on the go trail mix prayers as our day unfolds.
A few days ago the forgiveness of others made headline news. During a courtroom procedure the family members of the nine folks murdered at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston declared to the young man charged with the crime their love and forgiveness for him. The young man desired to start a race war, to trigger a riot in the likes of other recent events (Fergusson and Baltimore). He got the exact opposite – all because some grievously wounded souls chose to forgive in the same way that they had been forgiven by God. I suspect that somewhere in the days between tragedy and declaration they prayed “Father, forgive him.”
Our days are filled with opportunities to pray those three words. We are affected by the sin, ignorance, or foolishness of others wherever we are: at home, on the road, at work or school, in the marketplace, enjoying a time of relaxation, reading or watching the news, at church, keeping up through email and other social media. In those moments we can choose to lock them (and ourselves as well) in the dark dungeon of unforgiveness or we can walk in the light of love. Instead of trying to collect the debt of their offense God expects us to forgive them in the same way that Jesus has forgiven us. Jesus radically revealed this truth in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Matthew 18:21-35.
So, instead of grumbling and complaining or letting anger get a foothold. Rather than thinking “revenge is a dish best served cold” or keeping a record of wrongs. In place of condemnation, belittling, or ignoring someone. Pray! Father, forgive them. I know that it is hard at times. It seems unfair, perhaps even unwise to seemingly let someone off the hook. It costs us something to forgive the debts and wounds caused by others. But think about your own life and what it cost Jesus to forgive you of your sins. Think about how Jesus’ love has changed your life, your habits and desires, how Jesus continues to mold and shape who you are – all because of love demonstrated through forgiveness. Love is God’s chosen tool to effect change; not punishment, not revenge, not anger, not hatred, not the power of debt or guilt, but love expressed in a multitude of ways, one of which is forgiveness. When those moments of life happen, when our souls are offended and damaged, when someone does something foolish, begin with “Father, forgive them” and let love lead you the rest of the way.